A majority of the Hepatitis A cases diagnosed in the last four to six weeks are from Port Alberni and the West Coast, Vancouver Island Health Authority chief medical health officer Paul Hasselback said.
“Of the last 17 cases that were diagnosed, 15 of them are from the Alberni Valley and West Coast,” Hasselback said. “We’ve seen clusters of Hep A in various locations but right now the cluster is there.”
The disease is also entrenching itself within a younger demographic. “Of those 15 nine are under the age of 19,” Hasselback said. There are few cases diagnosed among people over 30. “Older people usually have developed an immunity to it already, he added.
There are 91 cases of Hepatitis A which have been diagnosed on Vancouver Island so far, Hasselback said.
The spread is following a familiar pattern, Hasselback said. “This is consistent with what we’ve seen before with Hep A.”
According to Hasselback, the outbreak extends back to early August when the first cases were seen. The outbreak originated in Cowichan, VIHA spokesperson Shannon Marshall said.
The event has been classified by VIHA officials as an outbreak because of the rapidity with which the disease is erupting. “It’s spreading beyond patients’ immediate circle of contacts,” Hasselback said. “We don’t have full control of it yet.”
The spread of Hepatitis A is different from the Tuberculosis outbreak three years ago, Hasselback said. “This (Hepatitis A) is not about hygiene of overcrowded conditions,” he said. “This is about socialization.”
The aboriginal population has been particularly impacted by the Hepatitis A outbreak, but Hasselback wouldn’t disclose any numbers.
Socio-cultural factors such as close family and children-to-children interaction, as well as interaction generated by cultural activities create conditions in which Hepatitis A can spread with greater frequency, Hasselback said.
VIHA is employing a two-pronged strategy to combat the disease, Hasselback said. Firstly, vigorous tracing is being done by VIHA staff to find a patients closest contacts and give them a Hepatitis A immunizations.
And secondly, VIHA officials are working closely with Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal council health staff in a public education and immunization administering initiative.
More than 8,000 people on Vancouver Island have been given Hepatitis A immunizations so far.